11 November 2009
A United Airlines pilot was arrested Monday (9 November 2009) at Heathrow Airport near London, England and charged with being over the alcohol limit while on duty. According to information released by the airline and by police officials, the pilot was part of the flight crew for United's Flight 949, which was scheduled to operate from London to Chicago. He was arrested after a co-worker suspected him of being under the influence of alcohol. The flight was canceled and 124 passengers were put on other flights.
United has removed the pilot from duty pending an investigation. The pilot is scheduled to appear in a British court on November 20th.
This is not the first time that a United Airlines pilot has been arrested in the UK for an alcohol related reason. In October 2008, a United Airlines first officer was arrested on the flight deck of a United Airlines 747 that he was about to help fly from London to San Francisco. Blood tests revealed that the amount of alcohol in the pilot's blood was about three times the UK limit for pilots. In the UK, the limit 20 micrograms of alcohol for each 100 milliliters of blood in their system, or a blood alcohol concentration of 0.02 percent.
FAA Rules on Alcohol
It may surprise many passengers that it is not illegal for a pilot to operate an airliner with alcohol in his or her system. In the US, the FAA has very detailed regulations regarding the use of alcohol by airline pilots. According to Federal Aviation Regulations 121.458, flight crew members:
- Must report for duty with an alcohol concentration less than 0.04
- Are not allowed to consume alcohol while on duty
- Are not allowed to perform crew member duties within eight hours of using alcohol
When it comes to alcohol use, pilots must comply with the rules of the appropriate aviation regulatory authority, as well as the rules of their airline. While the FAA or other regulatory authorities may allow pilots to consume alcohol prior to flying, and to even have measurable amounts of alcohol in their system, individual airlines may have far stricter rules on alcohol use. To their credit, most airlines also provide resources for an intervention for alcohol abuse for employees who need it.
One final note. Please keep in mind that the pilot in the most recent alcohol related event in the UK has been arrested and charged, but has not been convicted of any crime or of any violation of any US or UK aviation regulations.
FAA Brochure on Alcohol Aimed at General Aviation Pilots